The end has finally come for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which managed to survive everything from The Winter Soldier completely blowing up its premise in the first season to renewal uncertainties to changes in the cast to wrap with the Season 7 finale. The MCU's first and only remaining broadcast TV show airs its series finale on August 12, so the time is right to start looking back on the early days of the show. Stars Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge did just that recently, and they explained the "turning point" for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge of course respectively play Leopold Fitz and Jemma Simmons, and the duo transformed FitzSimmons from the scientist comic relief of early Season 1 with its close ties to the MCU to arguably the keys to everything in the final season after S.H.I.E.L.D. almost entirely departed from the films. The stars spoke with CinemaBlend and other outlets ahead of the series finale, and they shared their memories of when S.H.I.E.L.D. really started to break away from the larger MCU. Iain De Caestecker said:
Actually, I remember there was a specific moment. It was Season 1 Episode 6, and it was about Elizabeth like sacrificed herself... And there was a very specific moment actually, I think people talked about it. We were doing the scene, and Elizabeth, or Simmons the character, was getting ready to sacrifice herself in order to save everybody else. And she did this scene where she says goodbye to everyone and she kind of breaks down... I remember, it was this big turning point where just no one had ever done anything like that on the show. And as well with Elizabeth, she's got an amazing ability to tap into that kind of emotional side. And I remember that was a big turning point for it. And a few people said that, actually.
Way back in the beginning of Season 1, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was mostly about a team of agents solving relatively minor MCU mysteries while traveling around the world in their "Bus" airplane. At the time, fans had no way of knowing that the show was, as Clark Gregg stated, "treading water" until Captain America: The Winter Soldier released for the action to really get going. The somewhat procedural nature of the show changed with "F.Z.Z.T.," the sixth episode of the first season.
As Iain De Caestecker noted, Simmons went through a journey that culminated in her saying her goodbyes and attempting to sacrifice herself, and it packed an emotional punch with a focus on character over plot that hadn't been done before. All the characters were invested in Simmons' safety, seemingly even double agent Ward. It was also early enough in the series that it was very possible that Simmons could be killed off, so the stakes were high. Elizabeth Henstridge commented on how "F.Z.Z.T." changed the game for FitzSimmons as well as S.H.I.E.L.D., saying:
I think for FitzSimmons too that episode was [a turning point]. We suddenly had dramatic scenes to do that weren't just kind of pop in, say something funny, and pop out, which was also so brilliant to do. But Paul Zbyszewski wrote that one. I remember that episode so clearly. I agree that was a big turning point that we started to care about the characters rather than kind of all the stuff around them.
While part of "F.Z.Z.T." did take place with the agents on the ground investigating a case, most of the episode took place in the Bus with the investigation into the alien virus that was getting closer and closer to killing Simmons (and possibly blowing the plane out of the sky) as the minutes ticked by. The previously more or less silly scientists got big hero moments and filled in some blanks on their relationship, not to mention Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker getting to show off their crying skills in emotional scenes for the first but certainly not last time. Poor cursed FitzSimmons!
Iain De Caestecker picked up on the thread of what made "F.Z.Z.T." such a standout turning point for S.H.I.E.L.D. and FitzSimmons in the early days:
And to go back to that moment, the show is in a sci-fi superhero world which is fantasy. And so sometimes you lose a sense of reality in that, and I suppose when there was that... [to Elizabeth Henstridge] I think you were saying 'Say goodbye to my mum and dad' or whatever in that scene. It just added an element of reality to it. That was a big part of what the show was about, really, was about within that world of superheroes and fantasy elements, they were real people.
In the grand scheme of things, the cast of S.H.I.E.L.D. played their characters for a lot more screentime than the MCU film actors ever have, so seeing them as real people might have been key to the show lasting for as long as it did. After all, S.H.I.E.L.D. has gone from treachery to Inhumans to LMDs, with time travel and space adventures thrown in as well. It could have been ridiculous if not for characters and relationships grounding the plot.
Jeff Ward, whose character is the product of some especially bonkers plot twists, weighed in on what FitzSimmons have brought to the show, even though he didn't join until Season 5. Deke of course turned out to be FItz and Simmons' grandson, making the FitzSimmons family larger and weirder. Ward commented:
I think FitzSimmons did that a lot in general in the series, always kind of ground those emotional stakes.
Well, there is a reason why fans have been so invested in waiting for Iain De Caestecker to return as Fitz after spending almost the entire seventh season to this point off-screen! There are still big questions that need to be answered about Fitz, but the FitzSimmons relationship was still a major thread despite Fitz's absence. Deke and Simmons grew even closer, and we even got some FitzSimmons flashbacks that may or may not be leading to a huge reveal!